My NFC Divisional Round Cook-Off: Seattle vs Green Bay

I think the excitement in this match stemmed from a few things:

  1. Rodgers vs Wilson- Both QBs are former Super Bowl champions and definite Hall of Fame candidates. Part of their legacy, however, may involve losing the big game as well.
  2. Under most circumstances, Seattle would be overjoyed to add the 12th man to a divisional playoff game but if the regular season was any indication, you could argue that Seattle would have preferred to be on the road given their 7-1 away record. That said, Green Bay’s domination at Lambeau continued this season and they boasted the identical record at home.
  3. With the return of Marshawn Lynch, it would be interesting to see if he even sniffed of his old self and if Pete Carroll would even dream of doing anything other than handing him the ball anytime the Hawks were inside the opposition’s 5 yard line.

With the Seattle hot dog used for the wild card game, I had to renege on a previous post when I stated that I wouldn’t resort to the use of little neck clams to represent Seattle cuisine given my location and questionable freshness. I didn’t mind because I still reminisce about sucking back steamers steps from the Pike market in Seattle. With a quick trip to my local RCSS, I was set although I did cringe a little at the price tag which is always the case when buying seafood in a landlocked city. The advantage of littleneck clams is the simplicity of preparation; you simply soak them in some salt water for a while, steam them up and serve with a little melted butter and a bowl of the juice from the pot which adds a little salt and helps cleans the clam of any residual sand. The physiology of the clam itself even allows for easy dipping….it almost has a natural handle. The only downfall is the tendency for the bivalues to retain sand in all their nooks and crannies despite a good soak and stir.

Littleneck Clams

Green bay is certainly not known for exquisite cuisine. Cheese, brats and fish fries are often on the city’s menu. However, when i did a little digging I discovered the story of booyah, a slow-cooked stew which has become synonymous with Wisconsin tailgating. The story is that a local minister was looking to raise funds for his church and solicited donations from local farmers. Using beef and chicken he received as the protein, he added whatever vegetables he had around, threw it all in a large cauldron and let it simmer for a few days. The result is a thick, hearty soup thickened by the gelatin from the beef bones. Afterwards, when a local reporter asked what it was called, he was told it was bouillon (a traditional Belgian stew) but heard it as “booyah’ and the rest is history. My version did not take a couple of days (I wasn’t feeding the masses after all) but it did require a good part of the day in order to maximize the effect of the beef bones. In addition to the shredded chicken, I threw some rutabaga, potato, cabbage, carrot, peas and a can of tomatoes. The result was excellent and I could see why it would be so sought after on a cold Sunday afternoon in Green Bay.

My Take

The game was one of the more exciting in this year’s post-season docket and unlike most of the other games, relied mainly on a pass and catch strategy between each QB and his favorite receiver while the rest of the team generally spectated. Marshawn Lynch did run for 2 TDs (I guess Carroll learned that regardless of the outcome he had to give Lynch the ball to avoid embarrassment) but only had 26 total yards in total rushing. In the end, Rodgers emerged victorious and removed some of the stigma regarding losing the big game. Honestly, despite my respect for Russell Wilson, I was just happy because the Seattle loss means I don’t have to witness Pete’s buffoonery again until next year. Booyah!

My AFC Divisional Round Cook-off: Tennessee vs Baltimore

In the case of this match-up, I think I was more excited about the cooking than I was about the actual game. Maybe Baltimore is not the most sought culinary destination in the US but it is famous for Old Bay spice and the iconic crab cake. It’s also home to Chap’s Pit Beef (the sandwich stop in the parking lot of an LGBTQ strip club) and Sip and Bite (the greek diner with some of the best feta cheese I’ve ever had) which rank number 8 and 13 on my DDD list respectively.

Nashville, on the other hand, is one of the more popular foodie stops which offers a blend of old school southern food outlets and chic eateries. I have had the pleasure of dining at Husk in the Sean Brock days and to this day Arnold’s Country Kitchen and its meat and three remains at the top on my list of all time Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

Before getting into the showdown, a few comments about the game:

  1. I was surprised to see that Ryan Tannehill was only 31 so I can’t use my “Lamar Jackson got his ass kicked by his dad” joke…maybe more like his older brother although I often equate QB years to be more like dog vs human. I think it was important for Jackson to taste defeat so he can bounce back in a Patrick Mahomes vs RG III fashion. That said, it should be pointed out that Tannehill only threw for 88 yards with no picks whereas Jackson tossed for 365 but with 2 INTs so it’s hard to say that Ryan was the better QB in the end.
  2. I think the irony is the fact that Baltimore got beat by using the same blueprint that won them Superbowl XLVII…a moderately talented QB and good defense vs a flashy offence lead by a run/pass threat. Similar to this game, Flacco manged to avoid interceptions whereas Kapernick’s balanced offence numbers (including 62 rushing yards himself) was tainted by a pick and a sub 100 QB rating.
  3. Everything said, I can’t get excited about Tennessee. Sure, watching Henry run for almost 200 yards and average 6.5 per carry is somewhat exciting but I can’t help but remember every week of this year’s football pool when I cringed while being forced to choose a winner in any of the painful AFC South interdivisional game.

For the cook-off, I went with the aforementioned crab cake versus Nashville hot chicken. There are hundreds of crab cake concoctions out there but I opted for Andrew Zimmerman’s recipe which is definitely crab forward and uses saltine crackers as its binder. I did take the liberty of throwing in a pinch of Old Bay Seasoning for good measure. They fried up beautifully and really only need a bit of lemon as an accent.

My Tennessee choice was Nashville Hot Chicken, a signature item in many Tennessee eateries including Hattie B’s. Fried chicken is ubiquitous in the US but the uniqueness of this dish is the basting sauce which is a combination of fat, cayenne pepper and sugar. The result is extreme sweet/heat. I used a whole chicken which I cut into 8 pieces instead of quarters allowing for a reasonable frying time of 15 minutes or so. I tempered the heat with a tangy side of slaw, some homemade bread and some lakeside pickles which worked really well.

My Take

Unlike the game, when it came to the cook-off there was no clear winner . I mean choosing between a crab cake and fried chicken is a dubious task especially when the chosen recipes are spot on. Honestly, I think fried chicken holds it own without the Nashville cayenne/sugar topping and I guess I can handle a good crab cake without an aioli although I won’t omit the Old Bay seasoning under any circumstances.

I think Lamar Jackson needs an ass kicking to remind him he’s not quite prime time yet (6 of their games were against Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati after all). Next year we will see whether he takes the path of Pat Mahomes or rides (or kneels) away in the sunset like Colin Kapernik. With Marcos Mariota in his prime, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan Tannehill ends up following in the footsteps of the likes of other past and present 30 plusers like Joe Flacco/Peyton Manning and Kirk Cousins/Brett Favre by joining a retirement team such as Denver or Minnesota.

My NFC Wild Card Cook-Off: Philadelphia vs. Seattle

I have had the privilege of visiting both of these American cities during my travels. From a triple DDD perspective, Philadelphia eateries (Honey’s Sit and Eat and Silk City Diner) are in my top 5 whereas my favorite Seattle spot (Voula’s Offshore Cafe) clocks in at a respectable 15th. Philadelphia also historically has a number of celebrity chefs outputs including Morimoto, Jose Garces and Eric Ripert. Seattle, of course, has the original Starbucks and the Pike Market which make it a very competitive culinary destination among many foodies whether Pearl Jam fans or otherwise.

From a pop culture perspective, I think an accurate way to illustrate the differences between these two cities are reflected by the shows “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Frasier”… or in other words…rough and tumble versus plaid wearing pretension. This concept even extends to football; half of NFL watchers can’t even name the Eagles head coach whereas Pete “Peacock” Carroll struts around looking like an emaciated version of the most interesting man in the world.

Regarding the game, I think the writing was on the wall almost from the start. As soon as Carson Wentz went down early it was over. I mean, Philidelphia being forced to rely on long time and boring back-up QB Josh McCown to fill in as their potential savior was like adding Nick Tortelli to Frasier to increase ratings. A couple of additional observations:

  1. Pete Carroll is annoying. Watching him coach is like watching a teacher who should have retired 5 years ago trying to herd a group of whiny kindergarten children in from recess. I think if it was wasn’t for the professional nature and skill of Russell Wilson, Carroll would have been looking for a new gig years ago. To this day, he has continued to demonstrate the inability to harness clowns like Sherman and Lynch because all he needed to do was lean on guys like Wilson and Thomas to save his sorry ass.
  2. Philadelphia is one of the most boring teams in football. The only reason they were in the playoffs was because the rest of the NFC east is awful. I think you could even hear the announcer’s voices waiver when they tried to amplify the fortitude of the Eagles while clearly thinking they had no business being there in the first place.
  3. Two games at 17-9 within few weeks of each other? These teams should not be allowed to play each other again for a while if ever again.

For the cook-off, instead of a full menu, I focused on a street food battle for this match-up. Honestly, i was hoping to be able to steam up some clams to pay homage to the Seahawks but living in London, Ontario doesn’t give me the best access to fresh seafood. Instead, I focused on North America’s most ubiquitous street meat to represent Seattle..the hot dog. Allegedly, the concept stemmed from a rogue bagel vendor who thought slathering cream cheese (hopefully not Philadelphia brand of course because that would be weird) and fried onions on a hot dog would be a good idea. In this case, in addition to the cream cheese and onions, other acceptable toppings include jalapenos, sauerkraut and mustard. I opted for everything minus mustard for this battle.

I think when one thinks of Philadelphia street food, the cheese steak is a no brainer. What does require a bit of thought are the toppings. If one were to venture to Pat’s or Geno’s, “whiz” would be the cheese of choice but many hardcore cheese steak fans swear by more prestigious (or even real I suppose) cheeses such as provolone. To keep it cheesy, authentic and pedestrian, I used onions, peppers and whiz as my toppings. You still can’t go wrong…

Seattle Hot Dog vs Phili Cheese Steak

My Take

I’ve had many cheese steaks in my time including both Pat’s and Geno’s but I have never had a Seattle style hot dog as my time there was limited to DDD’s and the Pike market. Both are football worthy snacks accented by cheeses as questionable as Pete Carroll’s goal line decisions and Josh McCown’s playoff experience. As for the food, you can’t go wrong with meat (real or otherwise), cheese (real or otherwise) and onions (raw or cooked) on a bun…ever. I’d say the dog was better than I thought although I don’t think cream cheese will replace my tried and true toppings moving forward. As for the Philadelphia sandwich, whether whiz or provolone plus/minus peppers is your vice, it’s all covered beneath the cheese steak umbrella. The only thing cheesier than both sandwiches is Pete Carroll going Gangnam Style after every questionable call in his efforts to justify his over inflated reputation as a coach.

My AFC Wild Card Cook-Off: Houston vs Buffalo

In celebration of the NFL playoffs this year, I have decided to pay homage for foods well known in the participating cities. Even if I haven’t been to some of the cities, it’s not hard to find a few culinary gems one can recreate in the comfort of their own kitchen.

After watching the game itself, I can draw a few conclusions:

  1. Buffalo is cursed. Josh Allen does appear to have the tools necessary to win a few games but he’s gotta learn how to use them. At 6’5″, he pitches the ball versus throws it which certainly isn’t helped by the fact, as an announcer put it, his receiving core are “smurfs”. His naivety was clear in the 4th quarter where he literally pulled his team out of field goal range and handed Houston the win.
  2. American announcers have a hard-on for JJ Watt. It became nauseating listening to those clowns suggest that JJ’s sack was the turning point in the game and that anybody who could even dream of returning from pectoral surgery so quickly is nothing short of a god. The man love was truly nauseating and a reminder of why I mute sports events at times, especially given the fact they mic’d him up and we all got to hear his Tony Robbins’ motivational crap all game.
  3. Watching DeShaun Watson it like watching a roulette wheel spin and you have the house on red. Events like his Houdini move in this game remind us he’s far from a sure thing and that JJ Watt probably had something to do with it anyway.

The food showdown involved a menu of items representative of the two cities. This one was a bit easy…ribs vs wings. In order to up the ante a bit I added a few other dishes; Texas Caviar and Western New York’s famed sandwich… the beef on weck. I haven’t been to Houston but it’s culinary scene seems to be improving. I also have a good friend there so it’s on my list for 2020. I have been to Buffalo numerous times (the last time to watch the Bills beat the Flaccoless Broncos) and have had the privilege of indulging in a Charlie the Butcher’s beef on weck. I have also dropped by the original Anchor bar to pig out on a platter of wings.

It started with making some Texas BBQ sauce. Although there are no shortage of online renditions of Lone Star sauces, there are a few commonalities which include a good amount of sugar and lots of apple cider vinegar. In the end, I opted for Aaron Franklin’s Masterclass recipe which in the end was a perky and more biting version of many of the sauces sold on store shelves. The back ribs were slowly cooked (275 degrees)for a few hours and the sauces was added for the last 30 and the temp upped a few degrees which resulted in a slight caramelization but a maintenance of the strong vinegar flavour.

Texas caviar is a side dish open to creative interpretation as well. Usually it consists of some combination of the following ingredients: black-eyed peas and/or black beans, peppers, jalapeno, tomato, onion and avocado. Then it is usually dressed with some kind of vinaigrette ranging from Italian dressing to an olive oil with red or white wine vinegar. I used all the above ingredients to maximize taste and texture and finished it with aforementioned olive oil/red wine vinegar combination. The subtle acid nicely cut the fattiness of the other dishes and provided a bit of refreshment similar to smart Josh Allen play in the second half if you happen to be a Bills’ fan.

Texas Caviar

I cook wings all the time and opted for a straight forward oven-baked version sauced with hot sauce and butter in typical buffalo style. When it comes to wings, there are no fancy sides necessary…celery and carrots with a tub of blue cheese works every time. I often go full out deep fry but I was kind of drunk and lazy by this point.

Wings…Carrots and Celery Missing..I was a little sauced myself.

Since wings are pretty easy I tackled the famed beef on weck as well. I seasoned up an outside round and threw in the oven for a few hours (at the same temperature as the ribs) until it was medium. After a rest, I sliced it up and through on some homemade Weck buns (ensuring to leave the polarizing caraway seeds off half the batch). I wasn’t the biggest fan of this recipe which called for almost 25 minutes of bake time at 425 which would have turned them into footballs even Tom Brady couldn’t deflate. They were a little dense for my liking but gives me something to work on for next year..just like Josh. In the end, it was no Charlie the butcher but made for a great pigskin snack.

For dessert I went with a dish from the eventual game winner; Texas bread pudding with a Whisky butter sauce. It was a pretty standard pudding using some old buns and brioche I had kicking around (I wouldn’t recommend the weck buns given the caraway!). I threw in some raisins and pecans for good measure. The whisky sauce called for 1/3 cup of bourbon which retrospectively was a bit much reminding that everything (including the risk of getting drunk off dessert) is in fact bigger in Texas.

Texas Bread Pudding with Whisky Butter Sauce

My Take

Although not a game for the Super Bowl, “wide right” may be tempered somewhat by “don’t get sacked when you’re in field goal range in overtime” or “I don’t give a shit if he’s Houdini…tackle him”. As for the food, both regions represent great party foods. The BBQ sauce was tangier than I’m used to buying and would almost pass as a good wing sauce as well. The Texas caviar would shut the pie holes of any vegan viewers (or you could just slap down some carrots and celery and keep the extra blue cheese for your wings). For dessert, I suspect many Bills fans would have ignored the pudding and lapped up the Whisky sauce as a new way to drown this decade’s new football sorrow.